Online Real Estate Scams - How To Detect Them

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Online Real Estate Scams - How To Detect Them

The topic of an article to be written is: Online Real Estate Scams - How To Detect Them. I am part of a network of writers who ask for help with research when they are writing. If the topic is not their expertise they get help from some who may have specific experience. It makes their info more useful and of course more credible.

So here is my response to Online real estate scams and how to possibly detect them.  What would you add to the list of How Tos?


There is so much Real Estate information on the Internet that consumers are easily being misled. Many websites' only goal is to capture an identity (a name, phone, email) for sale to whomever will buy it. Besides advertising, many sites sell identities.  Non-professionals may not know that many areas of the country don't even have an MLS. And they may not know that data feeds can be stopped, like when Real ended Zil low's main feed last April.  So providing what seems to be useful real estate info is an easy hook for the phishers to use.

With a large expense like real estate, the public never hears the embarrassing horror stories of the do-it-your-selfers who got scammed. But the scammers rely on that.  I have personally answered many, many, online questions (1799 before I stopped) in an attempt to help buyers and sellers learn some of the signs of scams.  So much so, that I had stock answers saved in a doc file that I could easily copy and paste to save myself time.  (

Some of the indicators of possible false ads that I have seen are:
 A listing without an MLS number.
 A listing without a current or correct MLS number - they can be made up, or faked.
 A contact person without the Realtor R advertised - although the brazen thieves will falsely display that, too.
 Few pictures or just an overhead view with a nebulous address.
 Bad address info, or hard to locate properties.
 A property that looks different in your mapping search than it does in their ad.
 Of course, asking for money to be wired instead of accepting a check in person.
 Asking for a mailed check instead of meeting you. (If you're doing a long distance vacation rental, you might be able to check with a local real estate professional to see if the property is known as a rental normally. Although that kind of call can be an annoying time consumer for the answerer, most experienced professionals will help in exchange for your good word of mouth reporting of them.)
 And there is always the "Something too good to be real" indicator. Many predators attack the weak and desperate in the herd.
Those are some of the obvious ones. Because most buyers/renters/sellers aren't in the business daily, they aren't up to date on the scams and new methods. The thieves are always creating new scams, and they'll probably use this article to hone their skills.  Even fake online reviews are easy to set up, so even checking testimonials can be misleading.

Check the state's data base of licensed professionals.  See what town their license is addressed in. Each experienced professional - on average - works in at most, a five town area around their own town.  Most pros work where they live - logically.  

Truly experienced real estate professionals' phone numbers, emails, company, towns where they work, pictures of what they look like, etc., are going to be easy to find on the internet. Call the MLS or their Board of Realtors.  (No they are not the same thing.)  Even experienced reputable owners of rentals will have pictures, past advertising, phones, and emails that can be verified. Call the town the rental is in and see if the rental is registered/permitted and to whom. 

If someone says they're an owner and don't need a license, then look up the tax records and see if their mailing address is the same as where you're being asked to send money. See if their name and the tax records match. Look up the phone number they are using to communicate, look up their email with an internet search.

What's the alternative to the scammers, and equally as important the alternative to the identity re-sellers?
Choose your preferred town(s) or neighborhood(s). Find a few professionals who work there. Utilize those professionals' websites, online search services, and email updates to get truthful info that relates specifically to the buyer/renter/seller needs you have.  (Using a website, doesn't obligate you to use the site's owner for your transaction.)  Go meet those professionals - go by an open house, walk into their office, ask them to show you one house, etc.  Personal interaction will tell you if you want to work with them, hire them, rely on them.

In general, the websites of professionals are the most reliable and most current.  Those sites sometimes even have pre-listings and information about things coming available. Many professionals have their own website besides the site their company runs.  As with all things, you can try and "do it yourself", or "rely on someone who does it every day."  Again, with a large expense like real estate, the public never hears the embarrassing horror stories of the do-it-your-selfers who got scammed.  But the scammers rely on that.

 Best wishes, Heath


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Jeanne Feenick
NextHome Premier - Basking Ridge, NJ
Basking Ridge, Warren, Bridgewater Market Expert

...and when in doubt, never ever ever send money ahead of a signed contract/lease.  

Oct 13, 2015 06:41 AM #1
John Pusa
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Crest - Glendale, CA
Your All Time Realtor With Exceptional Service

Heath - Thanks for the very valuable tips on how to detect online real estate scams.

Oct 13, 2015 10:18 AM #2
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Associate Broker Falmouth MA Cape Cod Heath Coker

Heath Coker Robert Paul Properties Falmouth MA
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